Pierre Guillaume Frédéric le Play
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The son of a custom-house official, Le Play was educated at the École Polytechnique and the École des Mines. In 1834, he was appointed chairman of the permanent committee of mining statistics. In 1840, he became engineer-in-chief and professor of metallurgy at the École des Mines, where he became inspector in 1848.
For nearly a quarter of a century Le Play travelled around Europe, collecting a vast amount of material bearing on the social and economic condition of the working classes. In 1855, he published Les Ouvriers Européens, a series of 36 monographs on the budgets of typical families selected from a wide range of industries. This work was crowned with the Montyon prize conferred by the Académie des Sciences. In 1856, Le Play founded the Société internationale des études pratiques d'économie sociale, which has devoted its energies principally to forwarding social studies on the lines laid down by its founder. The journal of the society, La Réforme Sociale, founded in 1881, is published fortnightly.
Napoleon III, who held him in high esteem, entrusted him with the organization of the Exhibition of 1855, and appointed him counsellor of state, commissioner general of the Exhibition of 1867, senator of the empire and Grand Officer of the Légion d'honneur.
Initially an atheist, Le Play gradually became convinced of the need for religion. In 1864, he published an essay defending Christianity against Darwinism and Scepticism. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1879, three years before his death. Blum (2004) included Le Play in his anthology of French counter-revolutionary thinkers.
Statue of Frédéric Le Play, by André-Joseph Allar, at the Jardin du Luxembourg (Paris, 1906).
Works by Le Play
- 1864. La Réforme Sociale, 2 vols. 1887, 7th ed. in 3 vols.
- 1871. L'Organisation de la famille.
- 1875 (in collaboration with M. Delaire). La Constitution de l'Angleterre.
In English translation:
- The Organization of Labor in Accordance With Custom and the Law of the Decalogue, Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1872.
- "Household Economy." In Parsons, Talcott et al., editors, 1962. Theories of Society. The Free Press of Glencoe, Inc.
- Silver, Catherine Bodard, editor and translator, 1982. Frederic Le Play on Family, Work, and Social Change. University of Chicago Press.
- "Social Reform in France," in Blum, Christopher Olaf, editor and translator, 2004. Critics of the Enlightenment. Wilmington DE: ISI Books. 197-258.
- Brooke, Michael Z., 1970. Le Play, Engineer and Social Scientist: The Life and Work of Frederic Le Play. Harlow UK: Longmans.
- Herbertson, Fanny Louisa Dorothea, 1950. The Life of Frédéric Le Play, Ledbury, Herefordshire, Le Play House Press.
- Beaver, S. H. "The Le Play Society and Field Work," Geography, Vol. 47, No. 3, July 1962.
- Beum, Robert. "Ultra-Royalism Revisited," Modern Age, September 1997.
- Healy, Mary Edward. "Le Play's Contribution to Sociology: His Method," The American Catholic Sociological Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, Jun., 1947.
- Herbertson, Dorothy. "Le Play and Social Science," The Sociological Review, Vol. 12 (2), 1920.
- Higgs, Henry. "Frédéric Le Play," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 4, No. 4, Jul., 1890.
- Pitt, A. "Frédéric Le Play and the Family: Paternalism and Freedom in the French Debates of the 1870's," French History, XII, 1998.
- Sorokin, Pitirim A. "Frederic Le Play's School." In Contemporary Sociological Theories, New York: Harper 1928.
- Swinny, S. H. "The Sociological Schools of Comte and Le Play," The Sociological Review, XIII, 1921.
- Zimmerman, Carle Clark. Family and Society, D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1935.
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